Apples, Raisins and Salted Honey Pistachio Cupcakes

It’s always lovely catching up with old friends… especially when more than a decade has elapsed since the time you last met and you know that that won’t matter at all when you finally do.

That time while seemingly at a standstill in some ways, may have galloped along in so many others. But where growth and change embraces familiarity with such ease, that it’s comforting.

So naturally I wanted to carry something special when I went across to meet my old friend, and what better I thought, than a batch of home baked cupcakes. The only problem was I didn’t have the time to go out shopping for ingredients and though I had the basics I didn’t know what else I would find in my pantry.

What I did find were raisins, a few apples and a couple of jars full of pistachios, walnuts and almonds. And here they are…my Apple, Raisins and Salted Honey Pistachio Cupcakes.

These cupcakes were made in a flash, once the raisins were halved and stewed in a heady mix of rum, cinnamon and cloves.

The grated apples, added halfway through the stewing process, broke down the apples just enough to infuse them with the spiced rum and raisins, till it all came together into a richly flavoured deep golden melange…

The pistachios drizzled with honey, sprinkled with rock salt and roasted at 180 degrees C… sat alongside the raisin and apple mix… cooling down until it was time.

And then butter, sugar and eggs creamed together with a pinch of salt and some vanilla extract, met with the fruit mix, the flour and the nuts… and the batter found its way into star shaped muffin moulds….

Baked at 180 degrees C for approx 25 – 30 minutes… cooled, flipped over… just for the joy of it (I thought they looked prettier bottom side up)…

I had some frosting sitting in my freezer so I splashed in some rum, to get it up and going and then poured the frosting over the cakes, letting it rum… oops run over the sides…

And my friend loved them…

So a silent prayer of thanksgiving goes out to the heavens for friends, for the purity of friendships and for love that transcends time and age.

And for…

all things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful

…and for the Lord God who made them all!

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I suppose my love for bread comes from being Goan, and having experienced the joys of beautifully baked bread whenever we visited Goa during our yearly summer vacations. From the basic Pao and Poee (Poi) to the Bakri and the ring shaped Kanconn, to the numerous varieties that the village ‘poder’ or baker delivered to our doorstep morning and noon, just in time for breakfast and tea. Every one of those loaves of bread so distinct, so full of flavour, and still warm, they dance around the edges of my tongue and my mind as I relive those memories… So many varieties, I can’t recall all their names.

Even back home, Bandra where I grew up was dotted with numerous Irani and the odd Goan bakery or two that made both the soft pao and its crustier cousin the brun pao. None of those packed loaves of the flavourless sliced variety, sitting encased in plastic bags, waiting, characterless and forlorn for someone to pick them up from the corner store made it to our table, at least not very often.

I’ve always wanted to bake delicious bread… forming it into loaves, shaping it… my love for clay and working with it made me figure that it wouldn’t be such a difficult task. And despite being a fine art, the process is really quite simple, with the easiest of ingredients… flour, water, salt and yeast… in some cases without the yeast. All it takes is love and a pair of caring hands.

And then comes what’s known as artisan bread… which is really nothing but small batches of focaccia, ciabatta, country loaves, sour-dough and baguettes among others, all hand-crafted and at times combined with an array of scrumptious ingredients, ranging from cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar or Mozarella to name a few) to sun-dried tomatoes, caramelised onions, or even the finest olives… the list is endless.

Traditionally artisan bread is made in old-fashioned masonry ovens, but even a tiny regular home oven can produce the most amazing loaves of bread, and it isn’t all that difficult to make.

Here’s a Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I had the sun-dried tomatoes sitting in rosemary and garlic  infused olive oil for a week, just to develop a few more flavours and I used both the olive oil and the tomatoes for this recipe along with a generous handful of Parmesan and some parsley while working the dough.

After almost 2 hours of letting the soft elastic dough prove or rise…

Proving the Dough

… I  knocked it back (in a quick punching motion) and worked it a bit before placing it onto the baking tray to sit for an additional twenty to twenty-five minutes (I lined the tray with a bit of oil).

Knocked back... but not out!

Finally stretching out the dough using my fingertips and finishing it up by making a few rapid jabbing motions into the dough to give it that dimpled effect…

All Dimpled!

Brushing the top with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of oregano, chopped rosemary and a bit of rock salt… and it was oven ready…

Snug as a bug!

I took a tip from a Lesley Waters recipe I came across and sprayed the top of the focaccia with water a couple of times to allow it to steam as it baked…

And here it is…

Cheesy Herbed Focaccia with Sun-dried Tomatoes

I wanted to eat it no sooner it was out of the oven, but I turned it onto a rack to cool before slicing it… and wow!

Pan Grilled Barbecue Chicken

If you’ve ever lived in Mumbai you’ll know that this city just doesn’t have the space to set up a Barbi unless you append an e at the end!

But I have this grill pan that works wonders.

So I put together a few aromatics (read spices)… quite a few aromatics actually, pan roasted them just a tad to release their natural flavours and oils, and pounded them in my mortar and pestle.

The aroma was heady…

Caution: Don’t stick your nose too close to the picture

Then coated the chicken quite liberally with it…

So it sat, that chicken… soaking in all those wonderful flavours. And then it was time for the wet rub (I used a bit of yoghurt)…

Before it hit the sizzling hot grill…

And finally a good dunking into my own blend of barbecue sauce (the yoghurt features here as well… )

Bon Apetit!

Or should I swing hammer to gong n yell… “Come n get it!”

Orange, Rosemary and Bacon Savoury Cookies

This savoury cookie was made for a friend who isn’t a fan of the sweeter versions, and who loves bacon and oranges… in that order. And she loved it.

I used Kinu Oranges that I chanced upon in the market, because they are juicier and sweeter than the regular oranges and they’re also great for zesting. And I suppose because they just called out to me in all their vibrancy as I passed by. But you can use regular oranges as well, just ensure that the skin is firm and not too dimpled. In fact I hope I chance upon Blood Oranges sometime soon, I would love to use them in this recipe.

You don’t need to, but I would recommend adding a teaspoonful of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the oranges and to balance out the acidity from the juice and zest, as well as to spar with the bacon drippings (2 or at the most 3 tablespoonfuls to 1 1/2 cups of flour are more than enough) and the crumbled bacon bits (not more than 3 rashers of streaky bacon – cooked and crumbled). A couple of tablespoonfuls of buttermilk and a sprig or two of finely chopped fresh rosemary (1 1/2 tablespoons should do the job nicely) balances everything out perfectly. 

Orange, Rosemary and Bacon Savoury Cookies

Cheddar and Currant Cornmeal Cookies

These make the perfect dessert cookies. Not too sweet, these cookies are good on their own as well, but taste better when served alongside a fruit compote or a scoop of your favourite ice cream or sorbet.

I’ve used a mild cheddar here and not the sharp cheddar I prefer for my cheesier cookies… so while the cheese acts as a binder, bringing together the rest of the ingredients, it does not overwhelm the flavour of the cookie.

And yes I drizzled (err… poured) a rum infused syrup over them while they were still warm….

Cheddar and Currantcornmeal Dessert Cookies

Carrot, Cottage Cheese and Red Chilli Oatmeal Cookies

Carrot, Cottage Cheese and Red Chilli with Oatmeal?

These cookies, with candied carrot, fresh crumbled cottage cheese and a hint of red chilli flakes were not just good, they were awesome. At first I was afraid that candying the carrot might end up making the cookies too sweet, but the addition of the red chilli flakes took care of that, giving these fairly large cookies just the right amount of piquance to offset the sweetness of the carrots, with the cottage cheese adding to the chew factor.

I made them at Diwali (The Festival of Lights) and they ended up being the perfect little gifts for friends… 

Carrot, Cottage Cheese and Red CHilli, Oatmeal

If Life is a Roller-Coaster I’m taking the Slow Train

Life’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride the last couple of months and I hate roller coasters. I can’t even ride a Ferris wheel (giant wheel) without being bound and gagged and pinned into it… And then I’ve wanted a dog for ages, but I’m way too much of a nomad to keep one unless he or she has been house-trained and is as much of a nomad as I am… or as my friend Deepa very generously called me today, ‘a free spirit’.

So Yeah! I’m looking for a free-spirited pooch who’ll tag along on my journeying through life. Four legged please!

But then I realise that there are no constants in life… Anicca, the Pali word for impermanence being the foundation of all things. Everything arises to pass… But fortunately there are a few things that are more regular than others, and that serve to enrich life, mine at any rate. Among them… Food and Art. They’re essentials, things I can’t live without, sustenance of the body and of the senses. They are soul things, even if you don’t believe in the soul… And here I am, raised Catholic, and a Vipassana meditator, following the teachings of the Buddha, juggling the two with what has now turned into practised ease, but wasn’t always that way. So you’ll forgive the contradictions of word and thought that creep up, if any, and not debate or argue with them… for they are mine, and I don’t see them as such. I choose and hope to take the good out of everything, of the things that fulfil, enrich and make the Heart go YAY!

I started cooking at the age of eleven, not because I had to, but because the kitchen fascinated me, with its aromas, and everything that went on there to bring before you that beautifully steaming or cold plate of food. And then you tucked in… Elbows off the table!

My fondest food memories come from my grandmother’s kitchen in Goa. From the maids drawing water from the well outside the house, laughing and giggling as they went about their work, to that mile-long kitchen with huge earthen pots simmering on gigantic wood fires. And we ate from the time we woke up until we slept. Breakfast, the juice and fruit break, the mid-morning snack of rice conjee with water pickles or the spicier miscut, followed a couple of hours later by lunch, then tea, followed by soup at seven, then dinner at eight-thirty or nine, and finally to wrap things up, dessert… Everything else merely worked around those meal times like fillers. Life was good… and you didn’t get fat or fall ill. There had to be something in the air or was it the water?

And then there was the store room, dark and mysterious, the walls caked with mud to keep everything at an optimum temperature. There was no electricity in Goa in those days, at least not in the villages, which meant no refrigerators, no air-conditioning and obviously no fans, except for those hand-fans that helped you work up a sweat… and obviously no electric lights. So you either carried a candle, a Petromax lamp or a flash-light to see your way around in the dark. We were way too tiny for the first two, so the flash-light it was for us, and we were Blyton’s Famous Five or rather two at first, my brother and I, and then three, when my sister came along, exploring the cavernous maze of Nana’s epicurean treasures that lay within that space.

The real treat were the sweet makers who came in to make the famous dosh or gram sweet, and the coconut sweet called katle-gaus (oops!) made of strands of tender coconut cooked till translucent, coated in powdered sugar and placed in a clump on squares of pastel coloured paper..green, pink and yellow and allowed to dry. They sat in the store room, those huge sweaty women, their sarees hitched up to their thighs, in the glow on the Petromax lamps that burned as bright as they could, creating monstrous shadows of them on the walls as they stirred away at those huge pots of simmering molten liquid sweetness, singing or swearing in Konkanni I didn’t know which, and swigging from the tiny shot glasses of Feni that kept getting refilled as soon as they were downed. It’s little wonder those sweets tasted so good.

Life will always be a roller-coaster… But on the back of all those delightful food memories, I’m taking the slow train.

Chicken, Peas and Parsley Pies

I love butter and I love pastry. But working with it is a challenge in Mumbai where the temperature is anything from hot to hotter to hottest. So I stuck my hands in ice cold water and rubbed them with ice-cubes to keep them cold.

I made these pies in a muffin tray. Individual servings,  perfect for a light lunch or dinner… or even as an in-between-meals kinda snack.

You can fix yourself a salad on the side, in case you feel guilty about all that butter in the pastry, and want something to cut that fat… But it’s quite unnecessary.

These pies don’t feel heavy on the stomach at all… and butter is in any case good for the soul.

Chicken and Parsley Pies

P is for Pastry, Pies, Puffs… err..Quiche???

An ode to Pies, Puffs, Quiche n Pastry in general…

To butter, shortening, lard, flour, cold hands and everything else that goes into making them the treat they are…

To finally mastering the art of the perfect pâté feuilletée some day soon…

And to Julia Child, who despite being the messiest cook there was on camera, will remain the grand dame of French Cuisine.

Akuri or Spicy Scrambled Eggs with Ginger

I’m a Mumbai girl and way back in the day when I worked a 9 to 5 or rather a 9 to 9 job the only time I got to unwind was on those weekend trips I’d take with a few of my pals from work. We would generally head off to Matheran or Lonavla or sometimes when the adventure bug bit us hard enough, we’d head out to some other off the beaten track sort of place.

Longer weekends however usually meant Panchgani, and those trips are etched in my memory in inedible ink… not just for the numerous times we had to stop en-route because I was bus-sick but for all the wonderfully happy memories they hold. Like the time we ate so many mulberries our teeth and tongues were purple for days,or the time we sat drinking rum under that tree on Tableland in the heat of the blazing afternoon sun. We were nuts! And sloshed!

Panchgani also meant Jerroz Hotel. A quaint cottage up the street from the more famous Il Palazzo hotel, Jerroz was run by an old Parsi couple as a B-n-B. Nothing fancy, just your basic amenities, but it was clean and homely and the old woman was a darling, serving up some of the best Akuri on the planet… and I’ve eaten quite a few.

Now what can I say about eggs that hasn’t been said already, except that I love them… boiled, poached, scrambled, fried sunny-side-up… and especially as Akuri, which to the uninitiated can be translated as – a spicy melange of eggs scrambled with onions, tomatoes and corriander. What puts Akuri into a different zone is the hint of ginger, the dash of black pepper and loads of green chillies.

This is my version of that wonderful dish…

I’ve used spring onions (scallions) instead of the regular red onions and since I made it for brunch (Oh! Yes! Did I forget to mention that I can eat eggs at breakfast, lunch and dinner…. and as a midnight snack, sunny-side-up on hot buttered toast?) I baked parathas to go along with it.

Here’s to Akuri, to Jerroz Hotel, to good friends and to happy memories.